Saskatoon mom says parents need more info on effect of coronavirus variants in schools

·3 min read
A Saskatoon mother has concerns parents aren't getting enough information as to what the presence of COVID-19 variants will mean for students and families, saying parents need to have an idea of where the
A Saskatoon mother has concerns parents aren't getting enough information as to what the presence of COVID-19 variants will mean for students and families, saying parents need to have an idea of where the

A Saskatoon mom has concerns about the presence of coronavirus variants of concern in the city's schools, saying parents should be given updated information about what the presence of the mutated strains could mean for their families.

Earlier this week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority advised students and staff at three Saskatoon schools — Brevoort Park School, Tommy Douglas Collegiate and Bethlehem Catholic High School — that outbreaks at the facilities may involve a mutated strain, also known as a Variant of Concern (VOC).

Pamela Patterson has two children attending Tommy Douglas Collegiate. She says there's been some confusion around what the variants mean for local schools.

"What is the tipping point?" she said, pointing to schooling changes in other parts of the province.

Last week, all Regina schools started moving to online learning, with high school students switching to online learning within days of the announcement and elementary school students going online at the beginning of this week.

In Moose Jaw, the Prairie South School Division also moved all pre K-12 schools and Caronport Elementary to online learning last week.

Patterson said she feels it's important for parents to know what bar needs to be met to spur those types of changes in Saskatoon, as she'd have to make changes to accommodate online learning for her family.

"Just to be able to prepare and know, 'OK in the worst case scenario, what can we do?" she asked.

She said schools need to ensure parents have solid information about the new strains, like how long they take to incubate and when people might start to show symptoms, as she's worried about VOCs spreading from schools into the wider community.

Patterson said the SHA asking students to get tested while classes continue as normal seems strange to her, as it was her understanding those who are awaiting test results should be self-isolating. She said the response to the recent school outbreak has them raising questions.

"We've been told that there's only two positive cases, but they're treating this differently than any other outbreak and Tommy [Douglas] has had other outbreaks," she said.

Saskatoon public says direction on variants, mass testing coming from SHA

Saskatoon Public, the province's largest school division, said in a statement that it will continue to take direction from local public health officials, noting the direction on widespread testing for those at the schools came from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"While we have had some possible variant cases identified in our schools, our school division has not seen a significant increase in cases like other areas of the province," said the statement. "However, we remain vigilant to ensure our safety protocols continue to be followed in schools, which we know is vital to reducing transmission of the virus."

It said the school division is working in partnership with the Health Authority and other local school divisions to determine standard practices for rapid testing.

"These practices would include the use of trained external personnel to conduct testing, obtaining informed consent from parents/guardians, privacy considerations regarding personal health information, and processes to follow if a student or staff member tests positive," the statement said. "For determining if rapid testing is right for a school, we would be taking direction from the SHA."

The statement said division leaders and staff are working to keep everyone informed and safe during the pandemic, but that the division has had to "quickly make decisions and adapt our operations."

"Our school staff are doing an amazing job of modelling and reiterating the safety protocols for our students, while maintaining a focus on learning. At the division level, we will continue to work with public health officials on our evolving response."